Campus News

UB alumnus’ social learning platform makes students’ local content global

 Evin Schwartz's presentation about her STEM path, video still.

UB alumnus Evin Schwartz founded Belouga, a social learning platform that allows university students to share their stories and interests with teachers and students worldwide.

By CHARLES ANZALONE

Published September 3, 2021

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“The idea for Belouga came about after reflecting on continuous headlines in the media and realizing we are setting up the next generation for failure. ”
Evin Schwartz '07, founder
Belouga

Her video is part personal declaration, part academic call to arms. UB sophomore engineering major Kelly Kramer looks straight into the camera and audience, declaring an essential message for the times and her tribe about STEM, the popular acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

“One of the reasons students K-12 are typically discouraged from entering STEM fields is because of the common perception that STEM is too difficult,” Kramer says. “Not only are students experiencing a disdain for STEM fields, but STEM employers are also experiencing a shortage of workers.”

With a delivery as confident as it is disarming, She tells her peers how she “lost interest” in pursuing her STEM career because of “stigmas and stereotypes” telling her she would not be taken seriously in a male-dominated field.

But Kramer’s talent and passion for STEM overcame that. And her video — part of the UB Experiential Learning Network’s STEM Stories project — urges students, especially girls, to follow their dream and be confident the challenging work is within their grasp. She started the project, which includes elementary science fair photos, after her first semester freshman year she finished her first freshmen semester.

“I know I am in the right place and I can be successful by putting in the effort,” she says. “Anyone can find success in a STEM-related field if they find a discipline they love and are passionate about it.”

Kramer’s video and accompanying student quiz would be an accomplishment in itself. But these are no ordinary times for resourceful students aware of technology’s possibilities, not to mention someone with star quality. Kramer found Belouga, a social learning platform active in more than 120 countries, which allows university students to share their stories and interests with teachers and students worldwide.

So now her universal message of STEM female empowerment can go global.

The connection between Belouga and UB is especially strong because the company was started in 2016 by Evin Schwartz, a 2007 UB communication major with a minor in business, who pulls no punches about his strong ties of UB loyalty and appreciation.

“The idea for Belouga came about after reflecting on continuous headlines in the media and realizing we are setting up the next generation for failure,” says Schwartz, who after graduation ran a marketing/media agency for Gen-Y and Gen-Z.

“This can be fixed through simple connections, rich content and collaborations,” says Schwartz, who operates Belouga from home offices in Toronto and New York City.

Once the technology comes together, the concept makes sense. Students take advantage of Belouga’s social learning platforms “making education impactful, accessible and equitable for the youth of the world,” as Schwartz describes it, “through interactive streaming content, aimed at providing a global perspective while aligning to everyday school subject areas and interests.”

Schwartz always wanted to give back to UB and support students’ academic and professional growth. But the “stars aligned” when he met Mara Huber, associate dean and director of the Experiential Learning Network, at an event Huber organized. The two brainstormed how students could teach high school students “simply by sharing their own stories and interests.”

“I knew there was a way for our models to connect,” says Huber. “Our students and faculty are committed to sharing STEM innovation with the students of the world. Evin had a platform that could connect and amplify their stories.”

STEM Stories appeared on the ELN’s Project Portal. “Since,” Schwartz says, “it has given UB students the opportunity to create their own streaming series on Belouga that is then accessed and used by teachers and students worldwide.”

Tight-knit community

Belouga also fused Schwartz’s strong UB allegiance.

“Everyone’s impression when you first tell them you are going to Buffalo is ‘Doesn't it snow a lot?’ ” Schwartz says. “But it’s truly a special place. The community is as tight-knit as you can get and always looking out for each other.

“My four years there shaped me into the person I am today and gave me confidence and skill sets to launch my first business only a few weeks after graduation.”

Kramer finished her STEM Stories project this summer, so her content will be introduced to the Belouga network this school year. In the meantime, the Belouga network thrives.

From elephants to pizza

“We have reached millions of students since launching in 2017,” Schwartz says, “and currently feature over 350 global content creators and organizations in our library of more than 70,000 interactive educational series.”

Schwartz says Belouga’s content library has everything from “groups in Tanzania protecting elephants, to mental health and wellness experts discussing the teenage brain, to even the history of pizza,” all sorted by learners’ standards, subject and age range. He says about a dozen UB students have participated and expects more coming this year.

Even though it’s early, the process has worked well for Kramer. It’s “definitely” strengthened her organizational, communications and problem-solving skills, she says. It also gave her educational options when COVID-19 foiled her original plans

“Personally, the biggest takeaway from this is how I will use these skills throughout my career at UB to find success,” Kramer says.

“I think that others should get involved in projects like this because of the meaning and impact it will have on other people. It may not seem like much to the student pursuing the project, but the project can have a tremendous impact on one’s life.”